This is our 15th consecutive annual ranking of the 100 best fighters in the world. And if you’ve been paying attention all these years, you’ve noticed some patterns. First, the fighters who get to the Top 5 or so tend to stay there a long while. There’s not an awful lot of turn-over in that group, and that make sense. If you’re so good that you’re among the very best in the world at something, you’ve already demonstrated staying power, consistency and world-class dedication to your craft.
That holds true this year as Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez, all Top-5 guys last year and the year before and the year before that, are Top-5 guys this year. They simply are not subject to the vagaries to which the rest of are. That’s what makes them the best.
Here’s another sure thing: Sooner or later those guys will drop off, but it will be when they reach a very advanced age, not when they‘re still close to their prime. Bernard Hopkins, No. 4 last year, takes a big tumble, as does Shane Mosley. They are supplanted by younger guys making their marks and doing very good work. They had good runs and knowing those too we wouldn’t be shocked if we saw them again near the top someday.
Some outside the Top 10 suffered significant demotions, too. Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler, Kelly Pavlik, Rafael Marquez and Ivan Calderon all drop more than a few rungs. This is the result not of age in general, but to the frailties and indignities associated with being humans of standard-issue bodies and minds, at least as compared to those in the Top 5 every year.
Inevitably, guys drop off this list. That’s life. Roy Jones Jr. is gone. The late Edwin Valero, too. Ricky Hatton as well, but that’s the least of his worries. Cory Spinks, Joel Casamayor, Steven Luevano, Carlos Quintana, Kendall Holt, Verno Phillips and more, all gone.
It’s lucky for us that every time we turn around there’s some young prospect out there knocking the bejesus out of everyone they put in front of him. That’s what keeps this list interesting year after year after year. We hope you agree.
26. Celestino Caballero
Featherweight 34-3 (23)
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
Status Report: Caballero was so God-awful against Jason Litzau (L 10) that our immediate preference was to start a campaign to get his license revoked. You know, start a petition or something. Lucky for him, cooler heads prevailed and we came around to the thinking that anyone can have a really, really bad night. Besides, his pummeling of tough Daud Yordan (W 12) earlier in the year wasn’t bad. So we dropped him 18 rungs. It’s called tough love, baby.
Future: If Caballero gets his way, a rematch with Litzau. But guess what: Caballero won’t get his way.
27. Amir Khan
WBA Junior Welterweight Titleholder 24-1 (17)
Last Year’s Ranking: 42
Status Report: Good news: Khan took everything Marcos Maidana could give him and stayed upright, more or less (W 12). The bad: Maidana is slower than erosion and still landed enough to nearly lay Khan out. Still, in wins over Dmitriy Salita (KO 1), and Paul Malignaggi (KO 11) Khan was hardly touched. Soft chin and leaky defense or not, his offense will take him a long way.
Future: Call us crazy, we think Khan will meet the winner of Tim Bradley-Devon Alexander.
28. Ivan Calderon
Junior Flyweight 34-1-1 (6)
Last Year’s Ranking: 14
Status Report: One of the best pure boxers of the last decade takes a substantial drop here, not due just to his loss to Giovani Segura but to the downward trajectory he’s been on the last couple years. His struggles against Rodel Mayol in 2009 were followed by a win over Jesus Iribe (W 12) in which he was floored, and then Segura stopped him. Calderon is still a brilliant little fighter, just not as brilliant as he used to be.
Future: We’d love to see a rematch with Segura. Maybe we can get a mini Ali-Frazier series out of it.
29. Carl Froch
Super Middleweight 27-1 (20)
Last Year’s Ranking: 59
Status Report: Few of us really believed Froch would whip Arthur Abraham (W 12) but damned if he didn’t all but shut that little troll out. Froch earned our respect last year — and not just because he has the hottest girlfriend in all of boxing. In close, exciting struggles with Andre Dirrel (W 12) and Mikkel Kessler (L 12), Froch showed grit, poise and a fighter’s mentality, even if he lacks real athleticism. And his win over Jean Pascal in 2008 looks better than ever.
Future: Intriguing matchup with hard-ass octogenarian Glen Johnson in the next round of the Super Six tournament. Bombs away!
30. Tavoris Cloud
IBF Light Heavyweight Titleholder
Light Heavyweight 22-0 (18)
Last Year’s Ranking: 98
Status Report: Cloud’s win over Glen Johnson (W 12) gets him a long way, as it should. You can make the argument that Johnson outworked him, but there was only one guy who wobbled around the ring a few times that night and it wasn’t Cloud. This guy can crack, and he shows up in shape to punch hard for all 12 rounds. Ask steel-chinned Fernando Zuniga (W 12). He’s going to be hard to beat, and at just 28 years old he’s got time to do damage.
Future: Who wouldn’t like to see this kid against any of the other top 175-pounders — including Dawson and Hopkins?
31. Mikkel Kessler
WBC Super Middleweight Titleholder 43-2 (32)
Last Year’s Ranking: 19
Status Report: We’ll forgive Kessler for starting the stampede that left the Super Six tourney a shell of its former ambitious self, and note that his loss to Andre Ward (Tech Dec 11) and his razor-thin win over Carl Froch (W 12) both were exciting bouts that revealed the sorry truth that he gave his last very good performance against Joe Calzaghe. It won’t get better from here. Hence the demotion.
Future: At just 31 Kessler can still make money fighting outside the Super Six tournament once his “injury” has healed, and he will, against soft WBC mandatories.
32. Humberto Soto
WBC Lightweight Titleholder 54-7-2 (32)
Last Year’s Ranking: 33
Status Report: Soto had a very solid and busy year, with victories over Jesus Chavez (W 10), David Diaz (W 12), Ricardo Dominguez (W 12), Fidel Munoz (W 12), and highly-rated Urbano Antillon in a war (W 12). That’s the good news. The bad is that he hasn’t stopped anyone since moving up from 130 pounds. That’s discouraging for a guy who could crack the way he could at junior lightweight. Still, he remains one of the best 135-pounders in the world who can’t get a very big fight, thank you very much, Bob Arum.
Future: Reportedly a match with up-and-coming Brandon Rios. You’ll want to lock up the women and children for that one.
33. Kelly Pavlik
Middleweight 35-1-0 (31)
Last Year’s Ranking: 15
Status Report: It was a rough year for everyone’s favorite blue-collar puncher. After scoring an easy title defense against Miguel Espino (KO 5), Pavlik was beating Sergio Martinez in a war until Martinez opened a cut the size of all of Ohio over Pavlik’s eye (L 12).
Future: At this writing Pavlik is undergoing treatment for alcoholism and might never fight again. If he does it’s hard to imagine he will be as good as he was before he realized his every dream.
34. Robert Guerrero
Lightweight 28-1-1 (18)
Last Year’s Ranking: 39
Status Report: Guerrero remains an interesting case. Wins over Vicente Escobedo (W 12), Robert Arrieta ( KO 8) and a completely shot Joel Casamayor (W 10) did little to advance his career, but Guerrero can fight. He didn’t lose any momentum in the past year, but he didn‘t gain any significant ground either.
Future: Nothing scheduled as we went to press, but wouldn’t it be nice if he met the winner of Soto-Rios?
35. Antonio Margarito
Welterweight 38-7 (27)
Last Year’s Ranking: 23
Status Report: Margarito won about six seconds against Manny Pacquiao (L 12) but there’s no shame in that. He didn’t look great in his comeback win over Roberto Garcia (W 10) either, but you don’t see guys lining up to face him. Until proven otherwise, Margarito remains a moderate threat to anyone doing business around 150 pounds.
Future: Our guess? A rematch with Miguel Cotto.
36. Steve Cunningham
IBF Cruiserweight Titleholder 23-2 (12)
Last Year’s Ranking: 34
Status Report: The good news: Cunningham finally got out of his contract with Don King. The bad news: he signed with Sauerland Event, which means virtually all of his fights will take place in Europe. The first example: his win over Troy Ross (KO 5) for an alphabet strap, which went down in Germany.
Future: Cunningham is almost certainly the best cruiserweight in the world now that Tomas Adamek is a heavyweight. Her deserves the chance to prove it. Frequently.
37. Glen Johnson
Light Heavyweight 50-14-2 (34)
Last Year’s Ranking: 18
Status Report: If not for Bernard Hopkins, Johnson would be the sport’s most astounding older fighter. As it is, his performances against Allan Green (KO 8), Chad Dawson (L 12), Yusef Mack (KO 6) and 27 year-old Tavoris Cloud (L 12) prove his mettle and worth, even now. There is not a tougher, harder-working guy in this game. Still.
Future: Carl Froch in the next round of the Super Six tournament.
38. Anselmo Moreno
WBA Bantamweight Titleholder 30-1-1 (10)
Last Year’s Ranking: 38
Status Report: Moreno is still one of the busier titleholders in the sport, which we guess you have to be as one of the WBA’s ubiquitous super-duper championship belt holders, but it’s gotten a little dicey for him lately. He stopped Frederic Patrac (KO 11) but just scraped by Nehomar Cermeno twice (W 12). He’s just 25 years old so he shouldn’t be slowing down already.
Future: We’d like to see him settle unfinished business with Cermeno
39. Koki Kameda
Flyweight 22-1 (14)
Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked
Status Report: The Japanese star breaks into the top-50 based on a win over Daisuke Naito (UD 12), a close loss to Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (MD 12), comeback victory over Cecilio Santos (KO 4), and bantamweight strap-winning performance over Alexander Munoz (UD 12). The critics were hoping Kameda would fall apart when he finally stepped up. He didn’t. That’s why he’s here.
Future: An April title defense in Japan (where else?).
40. Abner Mares
Bantamweight 21-0 (13)
Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked
Status Report: Mares’ wonderful slugfest with Vic Arachnidan (W 12) in the first leg of Showtime‘s bantamweight tournament gets him here, as does his struggle with Yonnhy Perez (D 12). The amateur background doesn’t lie: the kid can fight.
Future: A hell of a hard assignment against the resurgent Joseph Agbeko in the tournament finals.
41. Andre Dirrell
Super Middleweight 19-1 (13)
Last Year’s Ranking: 68
Status Report: There was only one thing Dirrell could do to negate all the good will he earned with his upset win over Arthur Abraham (W DQ 11): quit the Super Six tournament. And that’s what he did. Maybe the claims about his neurological problems are true; it remains that the match against Andre Ward was troubled from the very start and those who said it wouldn’t happen were proved correct.
Future: Dirrell will fight again but not at the level he would have if he’d stayed in the tournament. A bummer for everyone
42. Joseph Agbeko
Bantamweight 27-2 (22)
Last Year’s Ranking: 52
Status Report: Agbeko’s loss to Yonnhy Perez last October (L 12) was close enough to warrant a rematch, and we all expected another shootout. What do we get? A boxing clinic. We had no idea “King Kong,” could make like a little Gene Tunney. Good for him.
Future: Abner Mares in the final round of the bantamweight tournament on Showtime.
43. Roman Gonzalez
WBA Strawweight Titleholder 26-0 (22)
Last Year’s Ranking: 35
Status Report: Gonzalez remained busy over the last year, but the quality of his opposition plummeted, hence the demotion. He beat Ivan Meneses (KO 4), Jesus Limones and, in October, Francisco Rojas for some alleged interim belt or some such.
Future: Wouldn’t a showdown with Nkosinathi Joyi be fun?
44. Jorge Linares
Junior Lightweight 29-1 (18)
Last Year’s Ranking: 43
Status Report: Linares demolished shopworn Jesus Chavez (KO 4) and won a wide decision over veteran contender Rocky Juarez (W 10) in July. Everyone’s beaten Juarez, you say? True enough. But at the end most were hanging on for dear life — including Chris John. Linares suffered no such drama. And, he knocked Juarez down.
Future: Anyone else see the parallels between Linares and Amir Khan? We do too. Here’s another: a year from now Linares will be much higher on this list.
45. Alfredo Angulo
Junior Middleweight 19-1 (16)
Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked
Status Report: Angulo rebounded from his puzzling loss to Kermit Cintron in 2009 with impressive wins over Gabriel Rosado (KO 2), Harry Joe Yorgey (KO 3), Joel Julio (KO 11) and Joachime Alcine (KO 1). That’s enough to get him in the discussion, and then some.
Future: Several sources reported in late September that Angulo was found to have been residing in the United States illegally and was being deported. If true it throws a fat monkey wrench into his burgeoning title hopes. Plus, no guy this talented should be sitting on his hands, or, even worse, fighting in a place where we can’t watch.
46. Hugo Cazares
WBA Junior Bantamweight Titleholder 32-6-2 (23)
Last Year’s Ranking: 44
Status Report: Cazares keeps plugging along. Wins over Nobuo Nashiro (W 12), Everardo Morales (KO 7) and Alberto Rossel (KO 9) keep him from losing ground and also mark him as one of the more consistent and reliable titleholders in the business. Future: The only guy to beat Cazares over the last 10 years is Ivan Calderon. Now that Calderon is over the hill, we guess it’s safe to say Cazares can be expected to keep winning over the next what, 10, 20 years?
47. Vic Darchinyan
WBC, WBA Junior Bantamweight Titleholder 32-3-1 (26)
Last Year’s Ranking: 53
Status Report: Darchinyan won three straight after dropping a decision to Joseph Agbeko (L 12), beating Tomas Rojas (KO 2), Rodrigo Guerrero (W 12) and Eric Barcelona (W 12) before losing to Abner Mares in a terrific fight (L 12). Darchinyan gets bonus points for creeping us the hell out.
Future: The loser’s bracket showdown: Darchinyan against Yonnhy Perez.
48. Sergio Mora
Junior Middleweight 22-1-2 (6)
Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked
Status Report: You can laugh at Mora all you want, there’s more to this business than being able to knock a guy’s brain loose. Whether or not you agreed with the decision, Mora demonstrated against Shane Mosley (D 12) that he can stay on even terms with a world class-fighter and on his better nights maybe beat him. “The Latin Snake” also beat Calvin Green (KO 7) in April.
Future: Mora is hopeful that his new promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, will keep him active. There’s no good reason a fighter as good as Mora is shouldn’t be working consistently — whether or not he‘s a knockout puncher.
49. Tomasz Adamek
Heavyweight 42-1 (28)
Last Year’s Ranking: 31
Status Report: We know, this looks all wrong. Adamek jumps up to heavyweight, beats Andrew Golota (KO 5), Jason Estrada (W 12), Chris Arreola (W 12) Michael Grant (W 12) and Vinny Madalone (KO 5) and gets demoted? Damn right. Here’s why: He was the best cruiserweight in the world. He’s not the best heavyweight in the world. Clearly he was better at 200 than he is at 215-plus. And you thought we didn’t put any thought into this stuff.
Future: Reportedly a fight in Poland against an opponent to be named.
50. Yonnhy Perez
IBF Bantamweight Titleholder 20-1-1 (14)
Last Year’s Ranking: Unranked
Status Report: You can’t blame Perez for not knowing Joseph Agbeko could box and move the way he did in their rematch (L 12). Who did? Their first meeting was a riveting punch-a-thon; we’re surprised they weren’t throwing punches at their cornermen between rounds. And it was Perez who forced the pace. It was the same in his war with Abner Mares (D 12). He is a hard guy to beat.
Future: An interesting meeting with Vic Darchinyan in the loser’s bracket.